University of Alabama at Birmingham students with big ideas for new businesses were awarded $8,500 to pursue and promote their ideas in the third annual Blazer Innovation Challenge this week.
The challenge promotes student entrepreneurship and innovative ideas that solve existing product or service problems. The Collat School of Business hosted the event, sponsored by IBERIABANK, in the Nielsen Innovation Lab at the school’s new building. The five competition finalists presented their ideas to a panel of Birmingham business leaders.
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Jared Sluss, a senior majoring in public health, took the first-place prize for his proposal to create a nonprofit organization that matches homeless individuals with vacant rental properties. His organization, called Link and Loan, loans people with stable government checks from social security, disability and Veterans’ pensions the security deposits they need while also connecting them with landlords who have empty rentals. “We de-risk the whole process by pre-vetting tenants and implementing automatic drafts from these stable government checks,” Sluss said. “For landlord, we solve their problem of finding tenants that will pay rent, spending scores of hours looking for these tenants and losing money while their house is vacant.” He plans to use his $5,000 prize to apply for nonprofit status and to get several homeless individuals placed in new homes.
Sunny Nguyen, a senior majoring in marketing, took home the second-place prize of $2,500 for his business, Studio King Media, which provides proposed social media-focused video services to businesses.
The third-place, $1,000 prize went to Andy Curry, a biomedical engineering PhD candidate who proposed a business model for automotive repairs. Curry’s business, UFix Garage, would allow people who live in apartments, homes or condominiums without access to a closed garage to rent bays in a climate-controlled space so they could service their own vehicles.
In addition to prize money, winners will continue to benefit from valuable mentoring, coaching and other resources from the UAB Commercialization Accelerator to help incubate and develop their ideas throughout the 2018-19 academic year.
“Our judges had a very difficult job,” said Eric P. Jack, Ph.D., dean of the Collat School of Business. “All of the presenters were incredible with such varied and interesting concepts. If you’re a student who has an idea to start a business, the Collat School of Business wants to help you do that. It truly is learning in the 21st century.”
The competition winners will present their progress to school and business leaders in spring 2019.
Two other teams were finalists and presented their ideas at the competition. Alyncia Robinson, Bre Minniefield and Randyl Cochran are cancer biology Ph.D. candidates who plan to launch an online science magazine. Brandon DeBalsi and Tarek Midani, psychology and biomedical engineering graduate students respectively, presented an idea to manufacture cost-effective, modular guitars through 3D printing.
The distinguished judges for the competition included Collat School of Business alumni Alan Dean, co-founder and senior managing partner of Targeted Technology Funds; Lisa Kianoff, founder and president of Kianoff & Associates; Frank Davis, president and CEO of The Horizon Group of Companies; Taylor Peake, founder of MotionMobs; and Alex Morton, Birmingham market president for IBERIABANK.